The Hong Kong government has suffered a defeat in its bid to enact electoral reforms that it billed as an important step in the territory's democratic development. A key part of the plan was voted down by pro-democracy legislators, who say the proposal did not go far enough.
Despite being a minority bloc in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, pro-democracy lawmakers managed to defeat the government's electoral reform plans Wednesday.
The legislators mustered enough votes to defeat a proposal that would have doubled the size of the committee that selects Hong Kong's chief executive.
They later voted down a proposal to enlarge the size of the legislature from 60 to 70.
The Hong Kong government, acting on orders of the central government in Beijing, had promoted the reforms as a step towards democracy for the former British colony.
But pro-democracy lawmakers argued that the changes were mere windowdressing. They, along with much of the Hong Kong public, want the chief executive and the full legislature to be elected directly by the people, and the lawmakers have been demanding a timetable for direct elections.
Beijing has flatly refused to provide such a timetable.
Lee Wing-tat, chairman of the Democratic Party, was among those who voted against the proposal. He says Hong Kong's people deserve democracy, and says he is confident it will come, because the global democratic trend is unstoppable.
Wednesday's outcome was a setback for Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who has to balance the Hong Kong public's desires against China's reluctance to allow full democracy in the near term.
Hong Kong's secretary for constitutional affairs, Stephen Lam, defended the government plan before the legislature Wednesday, arguing that it had the support of a majority of Hong Kong's population. He says the lawmakers who voted against it contradicted the desires of the public, and history will judge their actions.
But opinion polls have generally showed the public in favor of a full democracy. Tens of thousands marched earlier this month calling for direct elections and universal suffrage.
Eventual universal suffrage is guaranteed in the mini-constitution that has governed Hong Kong since it was handed over to China in 1997, but the text does not say when that would come.
Since the handover, a committee of 800 mostly-appointed members has selected the territory's leader from a list of candidates pre-approved by Beijing. Only one-third of the legislature is directly elected.
On Monday, the government tried to win over the opposition by promising to increase the number of elected officials in the selection committee. But the vote was seven short of the 41 needed for passage.
Lawmakers continued late Wednesday to debate another provision of the reform plan - increasing the number of legislators from 60 to 70.